Speculating the Future (A Rebuttal)

A column article, Comics Bulletin Soapbox by: Dominic Davies

This purpose of this column is to rebut Josh Green’s interesting "Speculating the Future," and to assert Marvel Comics' favorable future. Firstly, I would like to point out that naturally I am keen to be given the chance to defend my childhood heroes, but please, don’t get me wrong. I love DC Comics just as strongly as anybody else but believe that Marvel has just as much to offer us in the future as Josh believes DC does. So I am very willing to write a couple thousand words to balance the scales.

My argument is going to be a little different as well as I believe the future for DC and Marvel depend on two things: the success of mega events to bolster new interest and talented new creative teams to maintain it. Both publishers have been leading us all down a merry path of mega events one after the other over the last few years, each gathering many different responses from fans and critics alike. The four that stick most recently in my mind are DC’s Identity and Infinite Crises and Marvel’s House of M and of course Civil War.

DC started very strongly hiring Meltzer to pen the Identity Crisis, it sold well, received high praise and was generally well liked by the fans. There were a few tie-in stories in other books but nothing significant and merely added tasteful seasoning to the experience. It was in all a very worthwhile experience and something I personally enjoyed immensely.

Marvel returned fire with Bendis’ House Of M, while sales also rocketed, it received mixed reviews. There were fans who said that the pacing was terrible, the story soft, and that Marvel was trying to write their way out of a hole regarding Mutants and return the Marvel universe back to his most popular state. There was a massive amount of tie-ins, all promoting their secondary stories to get a piece of the action. In all, there were some good ones (House of M Fantastic Four) and some terrible ones (House of M Incredible Hulk) but most of the tie-in books were disregarded by fans and seen as simply a cash making venture, and not actually relevant to the main story. It was not as graceful a transition as Marvel would have hoped.

It’s interesting to talk about writing these colossal stories spanning over many different books in an effort to correct or replace aspects that were unpopular with fans. In fact, it can be argued that DC wrote the book on these kinds of events with the Crisis series. Wikipedia describes Crisis on Infinite Earths in this way:

Crisis on Infinite Earths was a twelve-issue comic book limited series (identified as a "12 part maxi-series") and crossover event, produced by DC Comics in 1985 in order to simplify their fifty-year-old continuity.

That pretty much sums it up. It’s a book designed to correct the convoluted continuity. These days while that book does inspire a feeling of nostalgia, it is brutally painful to read and also terribly confusing for any new comers. That brings us to the latest Crisis. Again with Infinite Crisis written by Geoff Johns the DC editors felt a need to set things back to normal. They felt that the heroes were getting too dark, in particular Batman, and needed a new Crisis to set things back to the way things were. There was a massive amount of hype generated to sell this series with the Countdown books and numerous tie-in events, each building the tension till the main event 6 months later. These, however, were not only a distraction but a necessity. If you were to have any grasp of what is going on, you needed to buy these books.

Then Infinite Crisis began and much like House Of M, it started strongly. Sadly this was not to last. Of course sales were strong, that was expected. But the fans began to pick apart the convoluted story and the flaws quickly became apparent. Allow me to quote some of our own SBC reviewers:

“This doesn’t even resemble a story any more. It’s just an ugly mess of jumbled parts and loose ends bolted onto what once may have been a workable and entertaining tale, and I feel like if I could just reach through the clutter, back to that original story, things might make sense.”

“Johns keeps the carnage coming in the hopes that we won’t notice the wildly lurching plot.”

Strangely enough, contrary to the complaints about Bendis’ House Of M being too slow, reader often remarked that Infinite Crisis had too much going on and that with all the action and characters and everything it became obvious that the story was suffering. Johns simply had too much on his hands.

But what of the future? That is what I am supposed to be talking about, right? What does DC have in store for us now that the Crisis is over? Well we actually got a taste of it before the Crisis ended in DC’s regular titles with its One Year Later stories, each book putting the Hero one year ahead in the DC universe continuity. It’s a solid idea, and so far with some great work on the first Batman and Superman stories it seems to be a success (already there is a reprinting of the first two OYL Batmans). However the other books have been weaker, especially in sales and have been met with some harsh criticisms from fans (Nightwing in particular springs to mind).

Then of course there is 52, filling everything in between. 52 as well is a bold move, promising to tell the story of a year without Batman, Wonder Woman and Superman. Despite a great deal of hype and some solid writers (including Grant Morrison) one has to ponder the relevancy of a series in which we already know what the world is going to be like one year later. This will become most apparent when 52 finally finishes and the DC universe is obviously still a year ahead. Can the book maintain reader interest as a weekly when everybody is reading events that have already been and gone in the base OYL books?

Out of all the future creative teams and stories that DC has hinted at, the only ones to really look forward to are Morrison and Kubert’s Batman and the All Star series (Frank Miller and Jim Lee's All Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder and Morrison and Quietly’s All Star Superman..., although it can be argued that this series is merely an imitation of Marvel's Ultimate line). The spin offs from Crisis (such as Shadowpack and Checkmate) all seem blunt and one must question how reader interest in these series will be maintained. Also, books such as Battle For Bludhaven must be labeled as spin offs simply being bad.

Over on the Marvel side of the fence, the latest event to hit the 616 Universe is of course Civil War. The first issue hit only a few weeks back and as expected, it sold well in excess of 250,000 across the globe. So how is this different from any other event? Well, already this series (also in 7 parts) seems to have learned from the mistakes made in both House of M and Infinite Crisis. As far as pacing goes, the first issue is a vast improvement on both Bendis’ talk heavy work and John’s screaming mess. Civil War #1 provides some solid action and strong development of the story and characters. Unlike IC with cast of hundreds of B and C Grade heroes and villains that even the most fanatical fan boy might have trouble identifying, Civil War showcases characters that are well known household names (although a few eyebrows have been raised over Goliath and Nighthawk's involvement). Also story wise there is no need for any secondary reading making the new series an ideal starting point for new readers.

To be expected, there are a number of tie in books but thankfully not to the same scale as HoM. Most specifically is the Civil War: Frontline 10 part series, to be published bi-weekly and written by Paul Jenkins. Paul is credited with the Eisner winning Inhumans, Wolverine: Origin, Spectacular Spiderman and most recently The Sentry. Joining Jenkins for art duties are Ramon Bachs and Steve Lieber, who both have done some impressive work for both DC and Marvel. Frontline is focused on the intrepid Marvel Universe reporters who caught in the middle and responsible for reporting the superheroes' civil war to the public. The book promises to provide almost an on-the-side commentary to the big events. Like the tie-ins I mentioned for Identity Crisis, the other books promise to add to the experience instead of simply trying to ride the wave and risk overwhelming the readers.

But what of Marvel's future after Civil War? There are a number of spin offs and brand new books lined up with some big name writers being thrown around. Immediately after Civil War Marvel will debut Robert Kirkman’s new Ant Man. Very much a rising star in the "big leagues," Kirkman has built a solid reputation from Image’s Invincible, The Walking Dead and Marvels own Marvel Team Up, Ultimate X-Men and Marvel Zombies. We can also expect to see a post Civil War book from Warren Ellis. Warren has blessed Marvel with some terrific work building the Ultimate version of Galactus with Ultimate Extinction and the crazy new series Nextwave. Marvel is unfortunately withholding specific details of this new book other than the fact that it will be called New Universal and that it is a revamp of the "New Universe."

Another of Marvel's most outstanding writers at the moment is Ed Brubaker who is currently and I am assured will continue writing some brilliant stories on Captain America and Daredevil. Brubaker very shortly will begin writing Uncanny X-Men (something which I believe is long overdue) with art by Billy Tan. Meanwhile, Brian Michael Bendis will continue to pump out his always high selling books including New Avengers and it looks like he is going to stay on and break some records with Ultimate Spiderman as he heads towards that 100th issue mark. Wow. Also, the distant future promises another Bendis/Maleev book (remember that great run on Daredevil?) with an up coming spy thriller in the form of Spider-Woman. Finally the last book that I would like to mention is the soon-to-be-released Neil Gaiman's Eternals, pencilled by the outstanding John Romita Jr. The creative team alone should be sufficient explanation of the attraction of this title.

So there you have it. I believe the future for both DC and Marvel comes down to a few singular things. Firstly, the handling of the big mega events with finesse through an understanding of previous mistakes and successes. For DC after the great work that was Identity Crisis it was truly a shame given what we received in Infinite, a book that seemingly was destined to repeat the modern issues that revolve around the original Crisis On Infinite Earths. Meanwhile, after an unsatisfying job with House Of M, Marvel seems to have improved the formulae immensely with Civil War, giving us a great story that all can enjoy and some solid (but not necessary) tie-ins.

Secondly, also important to a publisher’s future is the forming of positive future creative teams. DC has some great names, such as Grant Morrison and Frank Miller, but otherwise few changes in the core books. Marvel, however, has recognised the strengths in some of its newest writers and given them brand new titles to play with including great names such as Ellis and Kirkman, not to mention continued and new books for Brubaker, Bendis and Gaiman. It really is a game of numbers, and when it comes down to creative talent, Marvel simply has the writers and artists to back them up and continue to keep their books on top of sales. That’s the simple truth as to why Marvel's future is a more positive one.

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